A Better Way
A Homily for Lent II
March 8, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Matthew 5:27-37
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Every Lent I set up for myself these incredibly high standards – “this Lent, I think to myself, I’m going to do a million things and become super awesome,” and on the surface I tell myself that it is for the sake of my soul, for the stripping away of all that is not of God. But I think deep down inside I want to be what St. Paul calls a super-apostle. A mocking term for those who added to the gospel of Jesus Christ at the church in Corinth.
This year was really no different
And with some of my Lenten disciplines – I lasted 48 hours.
Then I had a revelation – for me – this year – I think Lent is as much about mortification of the flesh through abstaining from certain pleasures, especially those which lead me into sin – as it is of learning the habitual act of repentance. Relearning repentance as a central part of the Christian life – learning to recognize when we’ve sinned, learning to flee from that sin when it comes at us, but not simply to flee from it, but flee into the arms of a loving God, flee into the grace of Christ who died on the cross for all our sins. For each of us – Lent ends up being different – some must abstain from something – others must add a new discipline, while others may simply need to relearn the old habit of repenting regularly.
I recently stumbled across an article on Biblical manhood. The author lamented that one of the things that we tend to do as the church is tell people, men in particularly what not to do – and these admonitions are good – but we rarely tell them what to do. One of his exhortations was that men of God do “not merely avoids habitual sin, but cultivates habitual repentance.”
Lent is a season of habitual repentance, habitually turning away from our sin, and turning back to God. Daily dying to ourselves and daily coming alive in Christ. It is our opportunity to recapture that calling to habitual repentance.
This morning’s lesson is hard – I would be lying if when I read it on Monday as I started to prepare, that I thought “good! I get to preach on lust, adultery, divorce, and lying!”
Perhaps my attitude was not as good as it should have been because we are privileged to have a lectionary that guides and directs us so that ultimately, we submit ourselves to the whole teaching of Christ, submit ourselves even to those parts that make us uncomfortable and this is an uncomfortable subject because chances are – lust – divorce – or a lack of truthfulness has affect each and every one of us – if not all three, at least one or two, for we are sinners who are broken, who struggle to allow God to fill every inch of our hearts and chase after every fleeting thing – and so, by the grace of God, we must wade through difficult passages such as these. For it is ultimately our calling to fill our hearts with the grace that we find in Christ. We are called to be endued with the spirit, to the glory of God in all things.
Before we go any further – I want to say these two things – first – I speak as one who has a log in my eye – I do not presume to preach to you as one who is morally perfect – but as one like all of us has sinned, has fallen short of the glory of God, who has missed the mark. I have struggled with all kinds of sins, and seen my own darkness in my heart. So, do not hear me as one who is mightier than you – but as one who has sinned, who has repented, who is saved not by my own works but by the grace of God found in Christ Jesus. Hear one who finds Christ’s strength in his own weakness.
Secondly – you may very well feel yourself being uncomfortable with this subject matter, your conscience might arise within you and tell you – “repent!” If this is the case, the Holy Spirit is calling you, drawing you back to Christ, this is God calling you back to flee from whatever sin you struggle with. In that – I pray you would be reminded of what the Anglican Puritan Richard Sibbes said “there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.”
While our sin may very well drive us to our knees, may very well make us feel broken and devastated inside – it is in our brokenness and while we are on our knees that Christ finds us. If we feel this sense of sinfulness, if we feel this sense of brokenness – may we also be reminded to flee back to Christ, may that sense also remind us of His incredible mercy, His incredible goodness, may we not despair but turn back to Christ and ask for our brothers and sisters in Christ help in running the race that lies before us.
Now – you might be wondering – why even bother talking about this? Or perhaps, you are thinking “man, this is uncomfortable, I don’t want our young unmarried, celibate priest to talk about sexuality.” But think about this – the average American over the age of 15 spent two hours and forty six minutes a day watching TV.
This number nearly doubles for retirees over the age of 65 – to four hours fourteen minutes a day! Now, perhaps these are edifying shows – but a lot of what we consume on television tells us the antithesis of the gospel of hope – tells us the antithesis of a message of purity. It tells us that we should get what we want, and we should get it now, it tells us that the hook up culture that is so pervasive in our culture is okay and normal, it tells us that self-centeredness and selfishness is a good way to live. It portrays sexual immorality as good and right.
Meanwhile, we might spend an hour and a half or two hours in corporate worship a week, and another two or three hours in fellowship. S0 we spend 21 or more hours a week being catechized by the culture and at most five hours being catechized by the church and perhaps a couple more if we are disciplined in our devotional life. If we do not live with a critical mind, if we are not diligent about how we fill our time and our minds – which is more likely to have an effect on how we think? Which is most likely to form our minds and souls? Which is more likely to shape our worldview?
My friends – we must be on guard to what is forming our minds – and aware of how we think through things and what affects us out mind, body, and soul. And let us not be formed by the secular culture – but let us be formed by the word of God – be formed by His truth, by His church, and let us fully submit ourselves to it that our lives may be good and glorify God.
Now, let us tackle the first uncomfortable thing – Christ says: “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
How we view the other effects how we think of them – upon seeing an attractive person do we seek after that person for our own gratification, do we try to have them for our own pleasure, in reality or in our mind?
Let’s take this a step deeper – I mentioned a minute ago the statistics on the consumption of television because we live in a time and culture that has been classified as “pornified” by not just concerned Christians but secular commentators as well. In younger generations – pornographic consumption is normalized – and shows on TV that would have been considered objectionable twenty or thirty years ago for their objectification of women are so normal that we don’t even blink. If we pause a moment and really think critically about this – we know it to be true. I could share here statistics on rates of consumption, and annual budgets on pornography, as they are readily available – but I suspect that we do not need further evidence of this and I do not wish to dwell in this dark place for too long.
But let be aware that the sexualization of our culture is everywhere – and it has corrupted the heart of our present age.
But perhaps you’re wondering – why does this even matter? What I do in the privacy of my own house is my business, or perhaps, what happens between two consenting adults is their business!
How we view people is fundamental to our worldview – are people there to fill our wants and needs? Are human beings there to fulfill our want for pleasure? Are we using the other to give our heart some place to rest, instead of letting our hearts rest in God?
One thing I’ve noticed in talking with people who struggle with lust and sexual immorality is that they often don’t feel worthy of love – we live in an isolating culture and these people typically feel completely alone, feel too broken for community and sexual sin provides a brief reprieve from these feelings, it provides a brief, all be it artificial connection.
But my friends although sin, whatever it may be, feels dark and dreadful – and it may seem as though it is a bleak and painful spiral that never ends. Let me also tell you that there is healing in repentance – there is healing in Christ.
Perhaps my favorite St. Augustine quote is “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee O Lord.” Until we learn to allow our hearts to rest in the Lord – we will look for other things to fill them – it may not be lust, or sexual sin, it may be gluttony, greed, gossip, or something else but each of these will leave us empty. Instead, let us learn to root out these sins, and let us learn to let our hearts truly rest in the Lord.
And so what do we do to root these sins out? How do we live in such a time? Christ’s instructions are stark “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out, and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”
Now – let us not make the mistake of Origen, who took this a bit too literally – who in fact removed a part of his body because he felt it caused him to sin and he became hopeless. With the exception of Origen no church father took this commandment literally – but rather as a sharp hyperbole to give no room for sin. In a culture that looks at sexuality as a fluid and throw away thing – we are called to live a life of purity, we are called to give sin no place in our life. If there is something causing you to stumble – prayerfully root it out!
This does not mean we will live a perfect life – and this certainly doesn’t mean that we will live in constant perfection – this is not promised in Holy Scripture – it does however mean that we would prefer they way of the Lord over the way of the flesh and the world.
Now, I hope we have thoroughly established that lust and sexual sin is bad – and that it should be rooted out. I want to suggest a better way – there are many practical steps we can take but I want to suggest one this morning and that is instead of seeing someone else as an object to be consumed or a place to find our happiness – we recapture the other as the image bearer of God.
In a collection of liturgical poems and prayers written by an Anglican Priest – called “Every Moment Holy” there is a prayer called “Upon Seeing a Beautiful Person” and it captures this heart which we are trying to cultivate perfectly and goes as follows: “Lord I praise you for divine beauty, reflected in the form of this person. Now train my heart so that my response to their beauty would not be twisted downward into envy or desire, but would instead be directed upward in worship of you, their Creator – as was your intention for all such beauty before the breaking of the world.”
Let us learn to praise God for the beauty that we see, the goodness that we experience, all that is true and wonderful in the world – not to desire to have dominance over it, not to make it our own but let us learn to give thanks to God for all He has done.
No, my friends – the other – the brilliant, the beautiful, the funny, the fantastic, the ugly, the utterly destructive, the clown, and the klutz – every single person we will ever experience – each and every one of them are created in the image of God. Let us be mindful of this – and let us not grow to desire to have them for our own but rather learn to love God all the more for the wonders He has made for each and every one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made!
Here, before we tackle divorce – I want to make one more note as we read and meditate upon the Sermon on the Mount, Christ does something – he flips the cultural standard on the head – it’s fine to appear good – but Christ is more concerned with what is going on inside the heart. For the Christian purity comes from casting aside the sins of the mind and the heart. It comes from not simply from avoiding the bad thing or looking good to the world, but with the prayer that God will give us a pure heart. It is tempting to focus only on outward appearance – but let us be more concerned with God’s healing of our own hearts.
And now divorce – I pray that I approach this with care – I know that divorce has touched several in our midst– I know that many of you have experienced divorce or someone you love has gone through it for one reason or another. If this is you – as we explore this difficult question I encourage each of us to remember the words we started with from Richard Sibbes - “there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.”
First – let us be very clear – divorce is bad. Period – divorce is not the way it was supposed to be and our hearts should break when it happens.
Christ makes clear that there is one reason for divorce – sexual immorality – the word is fairly all encompassing – this can include an affair – this can include habitual, unrepentant use pornography – basically anything that violates the sanctity of the marriage bed. Again – we see a high view of sexual purity being portrayed by Christ.
Most theologians, though not all, agree that there is two other Biblical reason for divorce and the first is spousal abuse. I agree with this – abuse – like sexual immorality fundamentally shatters the covenant of marriage, and as such we should give no quarter to it. Likewise – when a spouse is abandoned by the other – this is a reasonable cause for divorce as well.
In all three of these cases we should take deep and careful care, and bear love for the victim or victims, and have sharp and strong calls to repentance for the perpetrator.
Beyond this – scripture gives no room for divorce.
For some – this may be hard to hear – and for some this may be a comfort affirmation of what is in the past – but in all of this, let us be mindful that there is grace found in the deep love of Christ.
Next – let us take a moment to talk about why divorce is so bad – God created the union of marriage to bring two people together – to bind two in flesh into one – for His glory and our sanctification. It is a reflection of God’s love for his people. To fall into divorce is to break these bonds, it is to shatter the covenant, and to kill something good.
I think what is best here – is if you find these words to be a struggle, or that they hit too close to home – let us talk, let us dive deep into repentance and into the grace of God. For God can heal all wounds – and can draw you away from your past pains and sin and into a deeper and more beautiful relationship with Him. My friends – no matter how dark your past is – please be assured that God loves you – you are forgiven – and there is hope for a brighter future.
Much can be said about the painful nature of divorce – but let us turn now and focus on how we can move forward – how we can create better relationships, and have better health, for we all come to the table with our own brokenness, we all come with past hurts from people who we thought we could trust, we all come with our own foibles and fears.
Our culture tells us – that the foundation of intimacy is sexuality – what if instead of that as Christians we start the simplest of things – we realize that intimacy is not magically found but that it is built.
Think for a moment about your walk with God. If you never come to church, never crack your bible, never pray – what will your relationship with God be like? It will not exist. If you only pray when you come to church on Sunday, and that is the only time you hear the word of God – your relationship might be a little bit better
– but if you find yourself in constant prayer, in the word, devouring it day in and out, spending time in fellowship, being encouraged and encouraging – then your relationship with God will be deep and intimate. Why do we expect human relationships to be any different? They take work. To quote a theologian I know and respect: “great relationships are not simply ‘discovered’; they are slowly and skillfully built.”
As a community in a microwave world – let us be committed to building relationships that last – not just marriage but friendships as well – the same theologian spells out the three following ingredients they are important for genuine friendships and for intimate marriages.
Now, let me again be honest – I do not teach this as someone who has relationships all figured out – but as someone who knows relational brokenness too well, as someone who has hurt and been hurt. But – I believe if we focus on building good relationships within the body of Christ – if we focus on building intimate friendships and solid marriages the world will be blessed by us, we will grow in Christ, and we will continue to find healing from all the past pains – whether it be divorce, familial betrayal, or other darkness from our past.
At the foundation of good relationships comes – emotional intimacy – sharing with one another our burdens, our hurts, and our past sorrows and even our sins. For as we share with God all our hurts and failures – we learn trust when we become vulnerable with one another.
Likewise – relational intimacy – committing to time together – letting our yes be our yes and our no a no, learning not only to bear with each other’s burdens and delight in each other’s joys, but to walk through the sorrows of our souls. In this commitment to one another it builds those good bonds that draw us deeper and deeper.
And finally – appropriate touch – as you all know my least favorite – but this continues the deeper bonds of intimacy. In a culture that is profoundly touched starved – we have an opportunity to model healthy touch, touch that portrays not lust but love – and it is even in touch that Jesus heals – and at times to show deep affection with those whom he loves. Think of John at the last supper where he is reclining upon Jesus.
It is out of these basic elements – that good – strong friendships and marriages come. The sexual union that is the mark of marriage, and comes after these elements not before – so when we wrongly order how we build our relationships – it is no wonder that there is so much dysfunction.
True intimacy comes from knowing the other – and loving them deeply and self-sacrificially – not from desiring having them for your own. So much could be said upon both of these topics – but I hope that these words have encouraged you – have helped you to turn to a hope-filled future – helped you turn away from fleeting worldly pleasures, and not beat you down but shown you the richest love that Christ has poured out for us.
Finally – we must note that Christ tells us to let our yes be yes and no a no. Much ink has been split on this – what does it mean? Should Christians make vows? Should we swear when we are called into court? These are worthy questions – but for now simply know that at the heart of it is this call – it is to be honest. If you say you’re going to do something – do it. If you can’t do it for some reason or if you aren’t going to do it – say no. Say yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no.
We have covered some hard topics and I didn’t spend nearly as much time as I would have liked on any of them – and I do not want to weigh you too heavily. Let us seek the holiness God has called us to and remember that for all our foibles and failings there is grace. I stumbled across a good quote the other day that I want to end with: “Having a Christian worldview means being utterly convinced that biblical principles are not only true but also work better in the grit and grime of the real world.”
Having now started to establish a Biblically principled view of sexuality – let us repent from any past sins, turn away from our old way, and stand firm in the way of Christ, not because we are better than others but because we are thoroughly convinced that they are good – because in the nitty gritty of life they work – because life is better when we live in them and most importantly because when we live in Christ’s holiness our lives glorify God.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.